Dear Emma, by Katie Heaney, via Grand Central Publishing, out now.
[I received this book from Hachette Books via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review; this did not affect my opinion of the book whatsoever.]
Harriet can dish it but she can’t take it. As a college newspaper’s undercover advice columnist named Emma, Harriet can easily answer her peers’ questions about homework, dating and roommates. But when it comes to navigating her own problems, she is closer to a lump of laundry on the floor than the detergent (weird analogy, but I’ll go with it). Rendered to brain fart level when trying to dissect the absence of texts from a guy, Keith, she was seeing, Harriet turns to her two best friends/roommates, Mel and Logan. And when she realizes that her new coworker at the library is dating Keith, that’s enough to panic and act weird about. But it gets even more complicated when the coworker, Remy, writes in to Dear Emma asking for help about her relationship.
While that may be the hook we’re led in on, the nub of the story is about relationships between friends. It takes a long time until the reader gets to the point when Remy writes to Emma. Instead, we’re invited right into the dramatic party that is college-aged best friends living together. At first, everything is fun and charming between Harriet, Mel and Logan – the girls have witty banter that will make you smile thinking back on your own similar memories, but tension eventually settles in. Harriet’s friends are great at listening to her complain, overanalyze and obsess, and giving their advice, but when it comes to their own issues, they don’t feel the need to share. This creates a rift of bad communication and paranoia we are all familiar with. Harriet ends up overanalyzing and obsessing over what’s going on with Mel and Logan, which I guess is an alright distraction from being dumped. But there’s a lot of pent-up anger she needs to deal with. Anyways, of course she is great at giving others advice! Most of us can’t practice what we preach (this provides a lot of cliche phrases). As Mel says, “Well, what would Emma say?” Harriet knows exactly what the right answers are but can’t bring herself to follow them.
The first half of the book is pretty funny, full of cute quotes about dating and being in college. I laughed a bunch – Heaney easily writes how a young American woman would speak these days but keeps it simple and not overdone. Once, when pondering texting Keith ‘heyyy,’: “I’m worried it was a little too direct,” I said, reading it over again to myself. Maybe I shouldn’t have framed it as a question. Maybe I should have only used three Ys. In daylight, four Ys looked weird. The more I looked at the word, the more it started to look like a bug. Like a disgusting centipede.” Another scenario has her explaining her stalking Keith on Instagram. His last post was eleven weeks ago, before we even knew each other. He’d taken it at home over winter break. The picture was of an open book in his lap and his dog’s head resting on his outstretched leg, and I remembered that when I saw it for the first time (whenever it was I first looked him up), I considered it proof positive of his intellectuality and sensitivity. I was like, wow, I cannot believe I found someone who also likes dogs and books. But the second half of the book feels tired and sometimes annoying – I get tired listening to myself think, too. I just think the pace could have been kept up a bit.
Heaney is a good writer – she knows how to connect with her demographic. We can all see our own experiences through this story, from binging Law & Order on the weekend and never getting off the couch to combing through someone’s Facebook page to spending too much time at the school library. I didn’t realize this until after I read the book, but Heaney is a senior editor at Buzzfeed and has wrote the popular memoir Never Have I Ever about not having a boyfriend by the age of 25. It all made a bit more sense after I learned that! Also I didn’t catch on to the fact that she modelled the book on Emma by Jane Austen (which I haven’t read, shh). Heaney fits in the group of uninhibited comedic female writers such as Monica Heisey. I am now interested in following her writing and am curious to see what kind of fiction she comes up with next.